Spare Change News writer/vendor Beatrice Bell interviewed Debbie Ferretti, a volunteer with Survivor’s Inc., about Boston’s status as a Human Rights City and the group’s role as a human rights advocacy organization.
Beatrice – When did Survivor’s Inc. and The Human Rights Movement start?
Debbie – Survivor’s Inc. was originally started by three friends in the 1980’s. Diane Dujon, Laurie Taymor-
Berry and Dottie Stevens joined hundreds of other advocates at The Massachusetts State House on April 25, 2007 to lobby for increased funding and support for public higher education, especially for low income women. In 2007 Survivor’s Inc. turned twenty years old. Diane and Dottie are still fighting for the same cause as when they and Laurie started Survivor’s Inc.
Beatrice – What’s your mission of Survivor’s Inc. and the Human Rights Movement?
Debbie – We are a group of low-income women and their allies who organize and educate around poverty, welfare and low-income survival issues. We offer training in writing, speaking, advocacy, computer skills, desktop publishing, organizing, membership and leadership. With these skills we are able to provide a forum for the voices of low-income women to be heard. We connect welfare office outreach and campus organizing with local and broader grassroots efforts to eliminate social and economic injustice.
Beatrice – Where was the first Human Rights city, town or country?
Debbie – It was Washington D.C. on December 10, 2008. Interesting thing to know though…. More than 60 years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt, joined by men and women from more than 80 countries, gave the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a “gift” that meant to remove the chains of colonialism, and to never again have humanity experience genocide. The Declaration delivered to humanity a new space to belong, calling for democracy to be a delivery system of human rights— moving charity to dignity. The human rights framework encompasses the best of Socialism and Democracy, giving us a vibrant political and moral way to conduct our lives with the protection of human rights laws. It makes so much sense.
Beatrice – What are Human Rights and what does it mean to be a Human Rights City or State?
Debbie – I think human rights are summed up best by Dottie; “It’s a belief in showing not charity but kindness, love and respect for each other no matter our differences.” Being a Human Rights City or State means that our governmental leaders will fight for what’s right for it’s citizens and will ensure equality and justice for everybody whether or not they’re rich or poor. They’ll ensure that everybody has an equal opportunity to food, clothes, jobs, financial stability, law enforcement and education.
Beatrice – Who started tthe Human Rights Movement?
Debbie – Shulamith Koenig. Many people give credit to Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X credit but technically they had no part in the topic of Human Rights. They fought for people’s basic rights on a local level or a national level. Human Rights encompasses the whole world. Dottie and I along with several other people tend to think of the Human Rights Movement as being started by Shulamith Koenig. She is the Nobel Peace Prize Winner for Human Rights.
Beatrice – How does the Human Rights Movement effect the homeless population?
Debbie – It educates them about their rights as a person and makes it so that they know they’re valued and have equal opportunities to food, clothes, shelter and whatever else anybody else has whether they’re homeless or not. It gives them access to things like Dress For Success, Community Servings, and Food Stamps or whatever they need.
Beatrice – How does the Youth Advisory Committee tie in with a person’s Human Rights?
Debbie – The Youth Advisory Committee shows a young person how to speak about their rights and let people be aware of their issues in the community. Basically it’s showing them how to be an advocate for themselves in the community so that they don’t feel things are hopeless. When you throw your hands up and say something is hopeless that’s when it becomes hopeless. Nothing is hopeless when you’re given the opportunity.
Beatrice – What’s the political implications behind being a Human Rights city or state? How does it effect the Legislature?
Debbie – Declaring a municipality as a Human Rights City provides that municipality with an opportunity to call attention to human rights violations around the world and to continue to promote the importance of educating its citizens about human rights. Here in Massachusetts on April 20, 2011 Councilman Charles Yancey, representing the Boston City Council, presented Survivor’s Inc. and the ARMS Center at UMASS Boston with a resolution proclaiming Boston, Massachusetts a Human Rights City. The goal is to have the language of the Human Rights Declaration to be included in all governmment policies as well as school curriculums. The premise being that we all should be intimately familiar with the ideas of human rights.
Beatrice – What’s your involvement with Survivor’s Inc.?
Debbie – I am one of the 12 people on the steering committee at Survivor’s Inc. and this past Winter and Spring I was the ARMS Coordinator at UMASS/Boston. Currently I am doing a lot of volunteering at Sancta Maria House and for Survivor’s Inc. The other committee members are currently; Cuf Ferguson, Sylvia Mignon, Dottie Stevens, Diane Dujon, Ann Withorn, Nancy Wrenn, me, Shakita Stafford, Linda Hardenbergh, Valerie Miller, Elaine Ward and Matthew Meskimen.
Currently Laurie Taymor-Berry (co – founder) is educating us on what bills are being addressed on Beacon Hill. Lenore Pereira (board member) speaks about social issues that still have not been addressed. Diane Dujon (co – founder) covers Welfare issues and how this is effecting our lives during these times. Dottie Stevens (co – founder) informs us of how certain situations are handled totally different even though they were the same issue. Immakolee Farm Workers educated us on how the differences are effecting the farm worker even today. Connie Chow from the Science Club for Girls has spoken about Women’s Rights even though we’re celebrating the 90th. Anniversary for equal rights of Women. There still is a battle being fought each day by women to have these rights recognized.
Beatrice – Finally in closing is there anything else you think people should know about you, Survivor’s Inc. and The Human Rights Movement here in Massachusetts?
Debbie – I like doing what I do on a daily basis. Sometimes it gets hectic and frustrating but I enjoy helping people. I’m proud to help out Survivor’s Inc, by spreading the word about people’s Human Rights. I enjoy empowering people with knowledge. Dottie and several other people have been inspirational for me too. You think about the fact that she was once homeless and had no job she had very little education. Now she has a master’s degree and runs successfuly Survivor’s Inc.’s newspaper and club.